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How to Get the Most Out of Your ChMS

April 9, 2013

© 2013 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Christian Computing Magazine 

Many churches and ministries call me because they’re unhappy with their church or donor management database software (known as ChMS). There’s probably not a ChMS provider whose customers I haven’t heard from. Does that mean none are good? I don’t think so. But there are patterns of what causes the dissatisfaction, and knowing those patterns can help you know how to get the most out of your ChMS.

Does the ‘Perfect Fit’ Exist?
The quick answer is, “No.” Some churches and ministries, sensing that, have embarked on the mammoth project of creating their own ChMS. Of the thousands of times that has probably been done, I would venture a guess that only a few dozen have stood the test of time. That means more than 99% of those projects fail for one reason or another, and all of them are expensive failures.

If there is no ‘perfect fit’, what should your expectations be? If you were to catalog all of the ChMS desires and needs of your team, and then were to compare that to the solutions available, probably the closest you can get is an 80-85% fit. (Some ChMS providers may think their percentage is higher; 80-85% is a guestimate to show that some expectation of unmet needs must be considered.)

When changing ChMS’s, understand that it is a big undertaking. If, as I said, no matter what ChMS you change to there will be at least a 15-20% misfit, consider that changing ChMS solutions may simply be a trading of one set of unmet expectations for another set of unmet expectations.

Is Complexity a Problem?
One of the common complaints I hear is that the staff feel the ChMS currently in use is too complex. Though it’d be good for ChMS providers to continue to look for ways to improve that perception, the complexity itself is not usually the problem. The perception of complexity is really an acknowledgement that the solution is full featured. Let me explain…

Most churches and ministries do a lot of the same operational tasks, and many do them in similar ways. But there are many who do those operational tasks differently. Because ChMS providers want to serve as many organizations as possible, they have had to create multiple paths that lead towards the same end to accommodate the different processes churches use.

That is why ChMS training is so important. I used to do training for one of the ChMS systems. As a ChMS trainer, one of my tasks was to learn the processes and styles of ministry at each customer and then help them maximize the software they purchased for use in their setting. That included setting up the system to match their needs as closely as possible as well as helping those who would be using the system to know how to use it. It also meant showing them which features they could ignore because they didn’t match their way of doing ministry.

Training is key, and ongoing training is important. Staff and ministry needs change over time. When an organization decides not to budget for ongoing training, the result is a feeling among staff that the system is too complex and that a new system should be sought.

Here’s a Real World Example
As a ChMS authority (due to my writing and consulting in this area), I get calls throughout the year from churches and ministries that are thinking of changing their ChMS. One of the common reasons they call is that no one on staff knows how to use their system. I often ask them how long it’s been since they’ve had any training on their ChMS, and the response is usually that it’s been a very long time– maybe even before any of the current staff were on the team!

In those situations I suggest to them that training would be much less expensive and much less disruptive to their ministry than changing their ChMS would be, and I encourage them to get some training first. Then they will be better able to evaluate whether the really need a new system. Doing so costs so little and yields such a great return on investment!

By the way, most who have taken my suggestion to heart found that their ChMS was a good one that could help them, saving them money and the lost productivity they would have experienced while converting to and learning a new system.

What Can You Do?
If your team is considering changing ChMS, considering these two suggestions may help you to objectively identify whether it is based on need or on incorrect expectations and/ or training. If it’s based on need, there are many good solutions worth considering. If it’s not based on need, training may help you more.

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